USING EXPERT WITNESSES IN PERSONAL INJURY CASES

by Kevin G. Harvey August, 2012

Both drivers claimed the traffic light facing them was green when they entered the intersection just before their vehicles collided, but obviously only one of them told the truth. One driver claimed she was approaching the hill traveling only twenty miles per hour and that the driver who came over the hill was speeding when he hit her; he claimed he was going under the speed limit. The train engineer claimed he was blowing the horn in the sequence and timing required by law for the correct distance before the train reached the intersection, but the lady driving the car didn't live to say what she heard or didn't hear.

In cases involving significant injury, how does one prove it was the other party who was at fault when neither party admits to any negligence? The best means of proof is through the use of an expert witness, and in cases of serious injury multiple experts may be used. So what is an "expert" witness? By definition, an expert witness is a witness who has "scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge" that will assist a jury in understanding the evidence or help the jury determine a fact that is in dispute.

In serious personal injury cases involving car accidents, motorcycle accidents, boating accidents, train accidents, etc., a commonly used expert witness is the accident reconstruction expert. An accident reconstruction expert utilizes engineering principles to "reconstruct" how the accident happened and then renders an opinion on what it was that actually caused the accident. Accident reconstruction experts use all the evidence that is available to them to create the reconstruction: the size and weight of the vehicles involved; the kinds of tires on the vehicles and the kind of road surface upon which the vehicles were traveling; the nature and extent of the damage to each vehicle; weather and lighting conditions at the time of the accident; information downloaded off of each vehicles' data event recorder; photographs and measurements taken by officers at the scene; and any other pieces of evidence that help complete the recreated timeline of what it was that actually happened leading into a collision or accident.

Sometimes a person involved in an accident has a difficult time remembering exactly what happened, the speeds at which it happened, how much reaction time he or she had, and exactly how he or she did react. In these instances, a human factors expert is often helpful. A qualified human factors expert can provide a jury with concrete evidence of what a driver could have perceived or should have perceived just prior to an accident (given lighting and weather conditions, vision angles, etc.), how much time it took the driver's brain to process that perception, and how much time it would have taken that drive to translate that perception into an avoidance action. When a human factors expert and an accident reconstruction expert are both working on the same case, it is a significant help to a jury in understanding exactly what happened that resulted in an accident.

Other expert witnesses are commonly used in serious injury cases on topics unrelated to how the accident occurred. For example, a life care planning expert can assist a jury in understanding what a seriously injured person's future medical care costs will be, and what medical care the injured person will need to continue to function at the highest level possible. A life care planning expert can assist with evaluating loss of vocational ability when the injuries result in the loss of the ability to continue in one's pre-accident career. An economic loss expert can be utilized to calculate for the jury the real dollar loss to a seriously injured person of his or her job and/or the loss of the ability to work at all.

In cases involving serious injury, our firm regularly employs and utilizes various expert witnesses who are crucially important to providing the jury with information it will need to reach a decision. Based upon our experience, we routinely make recommendations to clients regarding the kinds of expert witnesses that might be need in a particular case, and we have utilized a sufficient number of different kinds of expert witnesses to know whom to recommend or call on the client's behalf. If have questions regarding the use of expert witnesses, please contact one of our attorneys to discuss your questions.